Michelle has something to say

Comment and Compilation by Barry Tucker            21 June, 2013

Sometimes it takes “an ordinary person” to cut through the crap. It happened this week, when one of the “ordinaries” called out Leigh Sales over her preoccupation with a leadership challenge when interviewing federal Trade Minister Craig Emerson.

Michelle thought the ABC 7.30 Report interview was a good chance for a policy discussion gone to waste. A lot of people are agreeing with her.

In an open letter to Ms Sales, via her blog, Michelle writes that she “is not a troll or professional political pundit. I am a woman in her mid 40s. I have an education. I work part time, I have a husband and 3 kids, a mortgage and a dog. I volunteer with many of my kids’ activities and life is pretty busy. I feel unique, and I am, but on the surface I think you could say I am an “ordinary” Australian”.

Michelle makes this point:

“No interview with any ALP person, pollster, politician or power broker is going to give you the answer you desire. And yes, we, the ordinaries, understand that backbenchers are mumbling, and the Rudd loyalists. So what? Spend one sentence, or two, acknowledging that and move on. Aren’t you embarrassed that for almost 3 years you’ve had the same story and still Julia Gillard is Prime Minister?”

And this one:

“It bothers me enormously that as we approach an election so little is known of the policy position of the Coalition. What is direct action? How will it work? Why do all IT experts seem to advise against the Coalition FTTN and prefer the FTTH NBN? Do they have a health policy? An education policy? I rely on journalists to ask questions and to help us ordinaries become enlightened. How do we make a wise voting choice in September? A choice that is based on informed understanding of policy and ideas?”

You can read Michelle’s Open Letter here.

The video replay of the Leigh Sales/Craig Emerson interview will be available on the ABC 7.30 Report web site for the next two weeks. You can now view the video and/or read the transcript.

This is a link to parts of that interview. It has been edited to highlight the nature and persistence of Ms Sales’ questioning.

I will make the observation here that Ms Sales is clearly biased against the federal Labor government. There is a stark contrast between the warm and friendly attitude she uses when interviewing members of the federal Liberal National Party Coalition* (LNP) and the unsmiling, aggressive and rude bullying she uses when interviewing government Ministers and MPs.

(*One exception was Ms Sales’ persistent questioning of federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott which revealed that he had not in fact read a press release that he was commenting on.)

In this respect Ms Sales is in breach of the ABC’s Charter, which calls for impartiality, the employees’ Code of Practice and the managing director’s Editorial Guidelines.

The case of Mr John Faine being “spoken to” for his aggressive questioning on Melbourne radio of a newspaper editor and an independent blogger, seeking hard facts to support their allegations of the Prime Minister’s alleged knowledge of the ACTU slush fund affair, provides a stark example of the ABC’s inconsistency in judging complaints about staff conduct.

If you compare the audio of those interviews with the video of 7.30 political editor Chris Ulmann interviewing Prime Minister Gillard you will see what I mean. Complaints of Mr Uhlmann’s tone, interrupting and persistence were dismissed as a reporter just doing his job. You will find links to those items elsewhere in this resource centre.

Unfortunately, the documents that guide staff are open to interpretation by the ABC’s supposedly independent complaints body. It is remarkable how consistent the independent body is in determining that complaints about bias against the government, especially the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, are unproven or unwarranted, while complaints about favouritism or the behaviour of Opposition members and Right-wing panellists are unjustified.

Informal complaints that do not go straight to the independent body are easily dismissed by staff. Complaints to the regulatory body (ACMA) must relate to Radio and TV broadcasts only and must refer to a breach of the Code of Practice only. It’s a daunting process.

Comments on ABC staff blogs and Twitter accounts are subject to the same provisions of the Code of Practice in relation to official web pages and Twitter accounts, but cannot be the subject of a complaint to ACMA. Catch 22.

As a last resort, audience complaints can be directed to the Commonwealth Ombudsman.